Whether or not you use cannabis products, have used them in the past, or you’re just interested in the cannabis movement, this article will provide both insight into the science of cannabis, and something to talk about at your next cocktail party. While it may seem strange to bring up weed at a formal event, this article will show you just how it can be done.
Let us first set the scene: imagine that you are standing in a swanky joint, light jazz is playing, and you’re wearing your best outfit (you know, the one you spent half of your paycheck on, but have only worn once) Your boss is across the table from you sipping on their drink.To your left is that coworker you’ve secretly been in love with for months, and desperately want to impress. In other words, you need to stand out- it’s your time to shine!
As the party continues on, the topic of conversation somehow turns to the growing legalization of marijuana across the U.S., and your boss turns to you asking your opinion on the matter. Now, without this information you might sputter out something simple and forgettable, or something that makes you look suspicious: “Marijuana!?” [Sweat beading across your forehead] “I’ve never smoked marijuana!” [cue nervous giggle] “I don’t even know what that is!” Flash forward to Monday, and you’ve got a drug test sitting on your desk that needs to be completed, or you’re looking at filing for unemployment. In order to save you from this potential mishap, sit back, relax, and read on about terpenes - or otherwise known as your key to coming across as a cannabis savant.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes, you say? Never heard of ‘em? Well buckle up, because we are about to get a crash course in understanding what these unique hydrocarbons are, and how they effect your daily life, but most importantly, your weed.
Terpenes are common hydrocarbon molecules that are produced by a wide variety of organisms for a range of purposes. While this sounds pretty vague, the functions of terpenes are so vast and become so specific that it would probably take an entire book to explain the exact workings of each one; however, the major purpose of many of these molecules is the survival of the organisms which produce them. Many terpenes are responsible for producing odors that are secreted by plants, and some animals, and serve to attract pollinators, deter predators, or do both. Some of the common terpene odors that we may recognize are camphor, menthol, and pinene, but almost all smells secreted by plants are the byproduct of terpenes.
In addition to plants, some animals also produce more complex terpenes, like the poly-unsaturated hydrocarbon, Squalene. Squalene is a lipid that comes from many fish oils, and is also found in human skin sebum, that serves as a natural skin lubricant. In recent years, this complex terpene has also been studied and utilized in the medical field for its anticancer, detoxifying, and skin protecting properties; pretty cool, right? Because of the diversity and utility of terpenes, they are now an integral part of modern day industries like the cosmetics, perfume, and medical industries. In other words, terpenes are something we encounter every day, and we may not have even realized it.
Cannabis and Terpenes
While this is all interesting, you may now be wondering how all of this science-y stuff relates to cannabis. Well, let me tell you, it’s all a primary factor in how cannabis effects individual users, and different ailments. Just like most other plants, cannabis plants also adopted different terpenes for survival purposes. The strong odors that come from a cannabis plant are secreted in order to attract pollinators and keep predators at a distance. The strong odors and colors that the cannabis plants produce are now a major draw for humans, and can be one of the factors that makes us so interested in different strains. In my own personal journey to understanding cannabis, I always used to wonder how the buds I was smelling so closely resembled the smell of lemon, berry, or even the strangely intoxicating smell of a roadside skunk (come on, you all know it’s one of those smells that repulses you and intrigues you at the same time. There’s no shame in my game). Well, unlike my weird, wandering imagination may have led me to believe, no, the buds are not mixed with any sort of fruit or sprayed by skunks during the growth process- It’s the terpenes!
By now, over one hundred different terpenes have been discovered in cannabis plants, and each one contributes to the uniqueness of a different strain; they also are vital in producing different effects on users. While all terpenes are not fully understood, the most commonly occurring terpenes in cannabis plants are.
Top 3 Terpenes
The next time you go to pick out a strain at your friendly, local neighborhood dispensary, you may want to read up on the effects of the terpenes that are working behind the scenes in each bud. A common misconception is that the THC content of each strain is what is most important; however, if you are looking to achieve specific effects from your cannabis experience, the terpenes are what will actually benefit you most.
The first, and most common terpene that is found in most strains nowadays is Myrcene (pronounced MUR-seen, just to add to your connoisseur- like appearance), and is found in strains like Blue Dream and OG Kush, amongst others. The presence of Myrcene in a strain produces a serene blue tint, which is fitting because it is commonly believed to induce a calming, sedative effect on the user. Fun fact: Classic Blue is also the color of the year for 2020… I think it’s a sign. Because of the calming effect of Myrcene it is thought to have the most therapeutic value for the treatment of pain, inflammation, and insomnia. If you’re trying to sniff this one out, it’ll hit your scent glands with a musky, earthy scent that may resemble cardamom or cloves. If you’re looking for Myrcene in something other than cannabis, it can be found in mangoes, lemongrass and thyme.
Up next on the terpene roster is Limonene (LIM-o-neen). This terpene is found in strains such as Do-Si-Do, Wedding Cake, and Strawberry Banana. Whether you speak fluent Spanish or can recall any of your high school Spanish days, you may recognize the root of this terpene name as deriving from the word “limón,” which is just a fancy way of me telling you that Limonene produces a yellow tone in the cannabis strains in which it is present, just like a lemon. Just as it’s name and color implies, Limonene can be distinguished by it’s light citrus aroma, which may be why it is conducive to mood elevation and stress relief. Because of it’s positive effects on the mind, you may consider reaching for a Limonene dominant strain in order to treat anxiety, depression, inflammation, and pain. Outside of cannabis strains, Limonene can be found in lemon and orange rinds, rosemary, and peppermint.
Lastly, known for being the most common terpene in nature, Pinene is prevalent in many strains of cannabis, including Critical Mass, Big Smooth and OG Kush. Because it appears as green when present, Pinene may be harder to visually spot; however, it’s strong pine sent will have you reeling back in time to your childhood camping trips up in the mountains… except you don’t have to worry about bears this time. The benefits of using strains that are have a high concentration of Pinene in them include: memory retention, alertness and can serve as an anti-inflammatory. Pinene is most commonly believed to treat asthma, pain, ulcers, inflammation, anxiety, and even cancer. Some researchers even believe that Pinene may serve as one of the major methods of future dementia treatment. If you want to find Pinene in other sources look for pine needles, rosemary, dill, parsley and basil.
If you’re a visual learner like me, here is wonderful chart that can help you decipher the spectrum of terpene application:
What We’ve Learned
Well, there you have it! Now you have just enough knowledge on terpenes to make it through any cocktail party. Picture it now: you’ve just finished explaining the scientific details of terpenes in cannabis to your boss, and they are so impressed by your ability to convey such knowledge that they decide to promote you- surely someone who could provide such detailed insight into a topic like cannabis, of all things, should be representing the company on a much higher level (no pun intended). Next, your lovely coworker is awestruck at your intellect and slips you their number, suggesting that you go to dinner sometime. Little do you know that five years from now you two will be married and living happily ever after. Your life has gone from ordinary to extraordinary all because you took the time to read up on terpenes, and blew everyone away.
*Actual side-effects may vary
While everything I just explained may actually be a tad bit dramatic, what you did just learn about terpenes will help in finding the right cannabis strain for you. Although only three are described here, there are over a hundred more that are just begging for you to go research and test out. There’s a whole new world out there waiting for you to go explore, one terpene at a time!